Baptists Apologize for Sin of Slavery Blacks and Whites Clasp Hands, Vow Reconciliation

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Southern Baptists apologized for the sins of their slave-owning founders and for more than a century of condoning racism, and white members clasped hands with black members to pray for forgiveness.

"We forgive you, for Christ's sake," said the Rev. Gary Frost, the highest ranking black Southern Baptist and a pastor from Youngstown, Ohio.

He and the denomination's president, James B. Henry, embraced at the podium on the floor of the Georgia Dome.

The dramatic exchange occurred as more than 20,000 delegates, or messengers, of the Southern Baptist Convention met in Atlanta and marked the denomination's founding 150 years ago in Augusta, Ga. The denomination, with 15.6 million members, is the second largest in the country, after Catholics. Southerners founded it after they balked at New England Baptists' pronouncement that slave owners' "hands were tainted with blood." It wasn't until 1989 that the Southern Baptist Convention declared racism a sin.

The delegates, seated on the teal-blue chairs in the Falcons football stadium, loudly and definitively passed a resolution to work for racial reconciliation, after 12 minutes of debate. Frost accepted the apology on behalf of black Southern Baptists and led the messengers in prayer. He asked the audience, which was overwhelmingly white, to join hands with blacks in the dome, including food service employees.

The Rev. Robert W. Hurlbut, pastor of Country Music Church in Nashville, reached out to the Rev. H. Bernard Miller, pastor, and Gregory D. Ward, a Sunday school teacher, at the First Baptist Church of Griffin, Ga. Hurlbut is white; Miller and Ward are black.

"Now we can take our focus off racism and work for the Lord," said Miller. He said he considered the resolution a healing action - if genuine action follows the words.

"This could be our finest hour," proclaimed the Rev. Charles T. Carter, who led the committee that drafted the resolution. It shows the world that Southern Baptists are reaching out to all in the name of Christ, he said, and it follows the "two greatest commandments . . . to love Him and love one another."

Carter, a pastor from Birmingham, Ala., said the resolution was not an effort to enhance the denomination's evangelizing, but a sincere move to reflect the gospel of Jesus Christ. The resolution cited Acts 17:26, which said, "God has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the face of the earth."

Black Southern Baptists make up 5 percent of the denomination's membership.

The Rev. Steve Aubuchon, a co-pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Jennings, Mo., wants to put words into action. He offered a resolution Tuesday morning calling for the denomination to encourage blacks to become pastors by offering blacks scholarships to the six Southern Baptist seminaries. …